WASHINGTON D.C. - An American F-16 fighter aircraft shot down a Turkish unmanned aerial vehicle that had been observed conducting airstrikes in a U.S.-restricted operating zone about a kilometer from U.S. forces in Syria today.
During a phone call between Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler, the two leaders discussed the incident and agreed that while it is regrettable, the focus must remain on the important mission to defeat ISIS in Syria, said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder during a media briefing today.
"The secretary reaffirmed that the United States remains in Syria exclusively in support of the campaign to defeat ISIS," Ryder said. "The secretary also acknowledged Turkey's legitimate security concerns and underscored the importance of close coordination between the United States and Turkey to prevent any risk to U.S. forces or the global coalition’s defeat-ISIS mission."
At around 7:30 a.m. local time, U.S. forces observed UAVs conducting airstrikes in the vicinity of Hasakah, Syria, Ryder said. Some of the strikes were inside a declared U.S.-restricted operating zone.
"At approximately 11:30 local time, a Turkish UAV reentered the ROZ on a heading toward where U.S. forces were located," Ryder said. "U.S. commanders assessed that the UAV, which was now less than a half a kilometer from U.S. forces, to be a potential threat, and U.S. F-16 fighters subsequently shot down the UAV in self-defense at approximately 11:40 local time."
No U.S. forces were injured, Ryder said, also adding there is no indication that Turkey had intentionally been targeting U.S. forces.
"It's a regrettable incident, but U.S. commanders on the ground did assess that there was a potential threat and so they took prudent action in this scenario," Ryder said. "But again, the secretary has talked to his counterpart. They had the opportunity to have a fruitful conversation and ... commit to one another that the U.S. and Turkey will continue to closely communicate and coordinate. And as I mentioned, Turkey does remain a very important and valuable NATO ally and partner to the United States."
In addition to the phone call between Austin and Guler, newly sworn-in chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., also discussed the incident with his counterpart, Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces Gen. Metin Gurak. Those two leaders discussed the U.S. and Turkey's shared objective of defeating ISIS and the importance of following common deconfliction protocols.